Rock Climbing with a DISABILITY? Heck YEAH!

By Chris Prange-Morgan ~

Chris Prange-Morgan Keepin' On!

Chris Prange-Morgan Keepin’ On!

Like many of us with physical disabilities, our quest for adventure does not stop after our disability is acquired (or illness progresses). In fact, I would venture to say that my desire to continue engaging in outdoor adventures even became ramped up a bit….simply because I was forced to slow down and take stock in the things that really mattered to me. While recovering from my injuries (and gradually learning my “new normal” as an amputee, and having persistent back pain), I found nature to be a gentle abiding companion. Rock climbing was something my husband and I had done together and fit well into our adventurous lifestyle, so hanging up the idea of climbing was the last thing from my mind after my accident.

I learned quickly to pay attention to the little flame inside which could easily become snuffed out by pain, anger, or depression. I became aware that doing what I love strongly contributed to an increased lust for living (one of the things that I think can diminish when faced with all of the “I’ll never” thoughts, along with a self-perception as someone who was now less-than-abled). I began to find pioneers (other people with disabilities) continuing to embrace adventure and develop new techniques for getting out and up on the rock.

In the summer of 2013, our family traveled to Telluride, CO, to attend the No Barriers Summit…a gathering of folks making headway in the world of disability through new innovation, technology, and organized experiences for people with disabilities to enjoy outdoor adventure sports. The energy was palpable out there in the mountains….experiencing the strength of the human spirit cutting through barriers of perception and limitation. Suddenly, I had been immersed in a world not defined by what can’t be done, and inserted into a world where innovation and “out of the box” thinking made the “I can” a reality.

photo courtesy of Nate Castner Photography

photo courtesy of Nate Castner Photography

I returned to my home state of Wisconsin after the No Barriers experience and looked around at the potential for what could be done. Thankfully, the organization Adaptive Adventures stepped up to the plate to work in partnership with our local Adventure Rock Indoor Climbing Gym to obtain adaptive gear and begin an adaptive climbing program. This program has grown beyond the walls of the gym, and the idea has expanded widely in the Midwest. Our program is now called Midwest Adaptive Climbing, and its intention is to create community, to keep moving, and to find ways to get folks climbing. Eventually, our goal is to find accessible spots to climb outdoors….which can be a challenge, but not impossible.

Ronnie Dickson ~ photo courtesy of USA Climbing

Ronnie Dickson ~ photo courtesy of USA Climbing

The weekend of February 6-8, 2015, was one of history making in the Midwest, as two amputee climbers, Ronnie Dickson and Corey Ramos, became the first “disabled” athletes ever to compete in the pro men’s competition at the ABS 16 Open National Championships. Part of this weekend also involved a citizens / para-climbing competition and an adaptive climbing clinic, inviting anyone with a physical disability (yes, virtually any physical disability!) to participate. Climbers with disabilities came from as far away as Iowa, Ohio, Colorado, California, Illinois, Florida, and New York to take part in the weekend.   It was truly a history-making event!

It is an exciting time for those of us with physical disabilities. More than ever, opportunities are opening up and new ground is being broken. The challenge is to continue to find ways to fund these programs and keep them running.   Most programs are fueled by an amazing volunteer base and need to fundraise for expensive equipment, participation fees, and staff to organize and run events. Organizations such as Adaptive Adventures, No Barriers, Paradox Sports, Challenged Athletes Foundation, and others are dedicated to providing amazing, life-changing opportunities, but they cannot thrive without financial support. (Hint: Spread the word for folks to support them financially!)

photo courtesy of Nate Castner Photography

photo courtesy of Nate Castner Photography

In climbing lingo, the crux is a term to distinguish the most difficult part of a climb. A “sustained crux” is one that tends to last longer….you can’t just “get past it” to the easier part. Those with physical disabilities understand this concept well. Sometimes, our lives feel like a sustained crux, or crux after crux! To CLIMB is metaphorical for gutting through difficulty and keeping on, keeping on. Some folks are lucky, and are able to CHOOSE their challenge. Others are not as fortunate with this choice…but, we can still embrace life, and CLIMB ON!